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The Detroit Drug Wars: Part 5

The Detroit Drug Wars Part 5
Coleman A. Young was Detroit’s first ever black Mayor and served five terms in office. While in the first half of Young’s two decades in the Mayor’s office, the diminutive, yet extremely charismatic grassroots politician was celebrated. In contrast, the final half of his time on top was plagued by increasing violence on the city’s streets and constant speculation of wrongdoing.

Heavily investigated by the FBI, IRS and DEA for a variety of alleged illegal activity Young was never charged with a single crime, leaving office in 1993 with a complex legacy plagued with speculation about his ties to, among other things, the local underworld Specifically, rumors abounded for years related Young’s connection to the area’s drug industry. It started in the 1970s with investigations by multiple government agencies regarding narcotics activity possibly being conducted out of his family’s restaurant, Young’s BBQ, and concluded as he left office with rampant accusations of corruption and convictions of several members of his inner-circle for running a police-sponsored protection racket for drug dealers both in-state and out.

Many of Young’s problems latter in his Mayoral tenure could be traced directly back to the soft spot he held in his heart for his niece, Cathy, a drug-addicted street corner diva with a penchant for associating with some of the city’s most dangerous and high-profile felons. The daughter of Young’s sister Juanita and his close friend Willie Volsan, a longtime alleged associate of a number of area drug kingpins, Cathy was the apple of her uncle’s eye and he spoiled her. He also watched her back intently.

During court proceedings in the 1990s, it would come out that Young personally authorized around the clock private security for Cathy provided by a special service unit of the Detroit Police Department. Orders to the unit were expressly not to disrupt the activities of the Cathy’s criminal associates, but to merely make certain if any violence erupted in her presence that it be thwarted and she be shuttled to safety immediately. The top secret security detail was on duty from 1985, when the Mayor’s niece married Johnny Curry, through 1988 when she was conducting an affair and sharing living quarters with her husband’s right hand man, White Boy Rick Wershe.

Through the years, Cathy was a fixture at the Mayor’s residence, the Manoogian Mansion and through her uncle was introduced to some very powerful people. One of these people was then Detroit Police Commander Gil Hill, whom she became very close to. Some federal investigators claim too close.

Besides holding several top positions within the DPD, Hill gained minor Hollywood celebrity in 1984 when he appeared in the smash film Beverly Hills Cop as star Eddie Murphy’s superior officer on the Detroit Police force. In 1989, he would be elected as Detroit City Council President and eventually stage an unsuccessful Mayoral campaign in 1996. Between his brush with movie fame and his foray into local politics, however, Hill was investigated by the FBI for reputed connections to none other than Cathy’s husband, Johnny Curry.

Cathy testified under oath in 1992 that Hill tipped her and Curry off in 1986 about their home telephone being bugged by federal surveillance experts. Later that year, a Detroit News article reported an on-going investigation into Hill’s possible role in leaking information and taking a payoff from Curry to impede progress in the case of a gangland homicide that was allegedly pointing in the direction of Curry and his crew.

The homicide was that of 13-year old Damion Lucas, an innocent bystander struck by a bullet in a drive-by shooting aimed at his uncle, a rival Curry drug dealer, on April 29 1985. Lucas’ uncle had allegedly screwed the Curry brothers on hotel reservations in Las Vegas for the Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns fight the gang had attended fight weeks earlier. According to Curry him and Cathy met with Hill in his office the day after the Lucas murder and were informed that a member of Curry’s crew was the top suspect in the crime. Hill then allegedly told them, “You have nothing to worry about,” and according to Curry, accepted a bribe of $10,000 in cash to keep him and his inner-circle out of the investigation. Although he admits to speaking with Cathy on the phone the day after the Lucas homicide, he denies disrupting the investigation related to the murder and taking any money to help shield Curry from harm.

The run for Johnny and Leonard Curry atop the city’s drug world came to an end in the spring of 1987, when the government indicted the Curry brothers and 18 of their foot soldiers in a racketeering case, with charges of mass narcotics trafficking and tax evasion dating back close to a decade. Cathy wasn’t arrested, but named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, which mapped out her husband’s airtight control of numerous Eastside drug houses and increase in power and territory acquisition after the incarceration of Butch Jones and Le Roy Buttrum. The following winter, the Curry and all of their underlings pled guilty, with Johnny and Leo each getting hit with 20-year sentences, which they served a little more than half of.

Taking over Curry’s organization and stealing his wife to boot, 17-year old Rick Wershe’s time as king of the hill was short-lived. He was convicted for possession with intent to distribute 8 kilos of cocaine in January 1988, stemming from an arrest shrouded in mystery since police found the drugs following a routine traffic stop buried in someone’s yard over a block away. In the years that followed it would come out that Wershe was a paid government informant from the time he was 14 years old, recruited by a federal task force to infiltrate the city’s drug world and report back to them with intelligence on a variety of local underworld figures.

Wershe went back to work for the government in exchange for a promise of future parole while he was in prison serving a life sentence. He subsequently aided federal investigators in setting up a sting to nail Willie Volsan, Cathy’s father and Coleman A. Young’s brother-in-law, and Jimmy Harris, a Young confidant and the onetime head of his personal security staff, for running a protection racket for wholesale narcotics suppliers doing business in the city. For a hefty price, Harris and Volsan would arrange to have out of town dealers picked up at the airport in a standard issue black and white police cruiser and driven to the site of their “sales meeting.” If you were a dealer who already lived in the city, it was alleged you could pay Harris and Volsan for information related to specific investigations and heads-up alerts on pending busts, search warrants and surveillance activity.

Offering their services to an undercover FBI agent in the early-part of 1991, the protection ring was busted up via federal indictment in May. For Harris, a 30-year veteran of the police force, it was a long fall from grace. Although well-respected and well-decorated as an officer of the law, he was never far from controversy.

In the 1970s, Harris was a member of the highly-publicized STRESS unit, an undercover brigade that came under heavy scrutiny for its aggressive tactics. He was involved in the 1972 shooting of a Wayne County Sheriff’s Deputy, but later cleared of any wrong doing when he proved to investigators he had reason to believe the Deputy was a criminal trying to attack him.

When the STRESS unit was disbanded as a result of too many on the job killings, Harris was reassigned to the DPD’s Homicide and Major Crimes Division and cracked a series of high-profile murder cases that gained him a number of headlines and department accolades. Due to his close relationship with the Mayor, as his niece began getting into increasingly hot water with the men she kept company with, Coleman A. Young had him transferred into the Special Service squad and made him personally in charge of looking after Cathy.

The judge in the case didn’t take it lightly on Harris and slapped him with a 30-year prison sentence in 1993. Before leaving the Oval Office, President George W. Bush pardoned Harris in the fall of 2008, setting him free from custody more than 10 years ahead of schedule.

Source: greport

Date Posted: Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015 , Total Page Views: 1215

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